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Why Republicans want you to get married and Democrats want more affordable child care
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Basic child care ... costs more than (a) mortgage, and almost as much as a year at the University of Minnesota, the president said in his annual address to Congress. - photo by JJ Feinauer
Family values are typically associated, politically that is, with the Republican party.

"Our policies must be premised on, and must reinforce, values such as: family, hard work, integrity and personal responsibility," then Vice-president Dan Quayle said during a speech on family values in 1992, providing a voice to what had become a prominent theme for the GOP by the early 1990s.

"When families fail, society fails," Quayle continued, and so did his party. In 2004, the Republican Party platform stipulated that "Protecting our families" would be a major emphasis of the party, because of the institution's "role as a touchstone of stability and strength in an ever-changing world."

But as Nate Cohn of The New York Times' Upshot blog argues, Democrats are making major strides to set themselves up as the party of middle class family economics in 2016.

"Democrats have the ideological flexibility to embrace just about any proposal from reform conservatives that might seem politically threatening, as they already have on the earned income and college tax credits," Cohn said, arguing that when it comes to locking down the family vote, Democrats "are willing to use conservative means to accomplish liberal ends."

That means that the 2016 election will likely bring with it a political tug-of-war for the confidence of the American family, and many of the boundaries have already been drawn. Here's where many prominent political leaders in both parties stand on the big issues.

Democrats want to make child care more affordable

In a highly publicized interview with Vox, Obama took the opportunity to clearly outline how his administration plans to emphasize the issue of subsidized child care, a likely outline for what Democrats will run on in 2016.

Part of our job is, what can government do directly through tax policy? Obama told Voxs Editor-in-Chief Ezra Klein. What we've proposed, for example, in terms of capital gains that would make a big difference in our capacity to give a tax break to a working mom for child care.

Obamas comments to Klein echo much of what he already outlined in his most recent State of the Union Address.

Basic child care ... costs more than (a) mortgage, and almost as much as a year at the University of Minnesota, the president said in his annual address to Congress.

The president's main concern, and what's likely to remain a prominent argument for Democrats in 2016, is that the high cost of childcare is keeping women (and some men) from being "full and equal participants in the economy."

When childcare costs go up, women are more likely to stop working and stay home to care for their children, as the Pew Research Center found last April. And though some argue that more mothers staying home is ultimately a good thing for families, Pew's research found that a growing share of those women are staying home because wage stagnation has negated the benefits of paying for childcare.

In other words, Obama sees the growing number of stay at home moms as a sign of an economy that systematically excludes women from participation, especially low-income single mothers. When low-income mothers cease to work, income drops, pushing those families further into poverty. Subsidizing childcare, then, will help to increase income among poor single mothers.

Later in the State of the Union address, the president declared its time we stop treating child care as a side issue, or as a womens issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.

Obama has cemented a decision by the Democratic Party to make quality universal child care the next major goal of American liberalism, New York Magazines Jonathan Chait wrote earlier this month.

As Chait points out, the presidents proposed budget for 2016 has massive funds targeted at child care.

But this is not Obamas idea," Chait said. "He is merely ratifying a consensus that has formed among liberal-policy intellectuals.

Republicans want to strengthen parental control in education

Parental control has been a pretty constant theme among advocates for small government. The more localized the control, the more parents can be involved in decision-making that impacts families, the thinking goes.

In the lead up to 2016, advocates for small government have adopted this sentiment most strongly in the realm of education reform.

While Republicans are certainly not unified on whether or not Common Core is a good strategy for education reform (Jeb Bush is one of the programs most ardent defenders), the dismantling of Common Core has become a cause of interest for many standard bearers in the Republican Party.

Likely contenders for 2016, such as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and current Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, have denounced Common Core as a "federal takeover of education" that further separates parents from what their children are learning at school.

I dont think the federal government has any role dictating the content of curricula, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said during an interview with Radio Iowa. I think education is a state issue and a local issue, and ideally at the local level because that way parents can have direct input and control of whats being taught to their kids.

The message is resonating. According to the most recent Pew data, a majority of conservatives now oppose Common Core, despite the overwhelming consensus that education in America needs reforming.

Cruz and his conservative allies dont stop at Common Core, they also believe the issue of school choice represents the most compelling civil rights issue of the 21st century, because the status quo isnt cutting it for American families.

Its about putting parents and children ahead of government special interests, Jindal and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wrote in Politico last July.

Its about empowering parents to pick the school and method of learning that can best meet their childs needs.

Democrats want mandatory maternity and paternity leave

Much like the issue of child care, Obama used his State of the Union Address to publicly push the issue of paid maternity and paternity leave.

Today, we are the only advanced country on Earth that doesnt guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers, the president said just after outlining his push for child care.

In fact, House Democrats have already introduced a bill that aims to legislate mandatory paid parental leave (both maternal and paternal) for all federal employees.

We need to get paid leave provisions on every state ballot by 2016 that we can possibly manage to do, Hillary Clinton said at the 2014 Massachusetts Conference for Women.

"What we're doing here in America is we're making women choose between the family they love and the job that they need, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in an interview with The Huffington Post last September.

Perez, and the president, are both quick to bring up that the United States consistently ranks in last place among other developed countries for paid time off, and that a majority of Americans see this as part of the reason women are disadvantaged in the workplace.

"In other countries," Perez said, "they've put politics aside and looked at the facts. When women succeed, the world succeeds. We're losing sight of that here in the USA."

From a political science standpoint, doubling down on maternity and paternity leave in the run-up to 2016 could be good news for Democrats. While Republican lawmakers havent been enthusiastic about such a measure, a Huffington Post/YouGov poll released earlier this month found that 67 percent of Americans support paid maternity leave, and 55 percent support the same measure for fathers.

Republicans want to curb poverty by encouraging stable marriages

Jeb Bush has yet to officially announce his candidacy for the presidency (no one has, not even Hillary Clinton), but most people look to the announcement of his Right to Rise super PAC as an unofficial coming out party.

What is the mission of the PAC? To jump-start the American economy by promoting a conservative vision of reform and renewal, according to its website.

The PACs emphasis on building up a strong economy on conservative principles is nothing new, and neither is a candidate speaking to the economic concerns of Americans. But Bushs emphasis on promoting stable families as a means to curb poverty is shaping up to be a defining part of his (yet to be announced) campaign.

"A loving family taking care of their children in a traditional marriage will create the chance to break out of poverty far better, far better than any of the government programs that we can create," Bush told Wall Street benefactors last May.

Bushs approach to poverty didnt come out of thin air. He was accompanied to the Wall Street event by former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who has probably done more to popularize the focus on marriage and poverty in the Republican Party than any other candidate.

Much of Ryan's poverty plan has centered around broadening the earned-income tax credit which is essentially a tax cut for "working people who have low to moderate income" for childless couples, which Ryan hopes will encourage work (and curb poverty) "by increasing the rewards of work" for poor married couples.

By relieving the tax burden on childless married couples, Ryan hopes to make marriage more appealing to the poor. Studies show that children who grow up with married parents are more likely to go to college, and less likely to have a child out of wedlock. Ryan, and the Republicans who espouse similar ideas, hope that incentivizing marriage will help break the cycle of poverty.

While critics of Ryan's plan think he's confusing correlation and causation, conservatives seem willing to double-down on plans to focus on marriage in 2016.

"If youre able-bodied and youre working, youre more likely to have a stable life, a stable marriage, and a stable family," Ryan said during an event with the American Enterprise institute. "And so I think applying EITC to childless adults is actually going to help facilitate marriage. I think its going to be good for the family."

Other prominent Republican players, such as Mitt Romney, who will reportedly be more of a Republican kingmaker in the wake of his decision not to run, and junior Senator from Utah Mike Lee have also been vocal in the push to shape the Republican anti-poverty plan around strong families.

It is uncomfortable to talk about, and almost impossible to legislate, Lee said during a conservative luncheon in November 2013.

But the fact is, the problem of poverty in America is directly linked to family breakdown and the erosion of marriage among low-income families and communities," he said.

Why focus on family issues?

Americans increasingly see Washington D.C. as a place where ideas and progress go to die. According to a Washington Post/ABC Poll from October 2013, 75 percent of Americans are unsatisfied with "the way this country's political system is working." That same poll found that 68 percent of Americans think the country has "gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track."

While that poll was taken during the heat of the 2013 partial government shut down (which goes to show that little has changed over the past two years), more recent polls have shown that Americans are losing patience with both major political parties.

But Americans may not feel that way forever. In what seems to be an attempt to win the hearts and minds of the American voter, both Republicans and Democrats are beginning to increase their focus on issues of marriage and familial stability, which are important to today's voters.

Even though the percentage of 'never married" adults is rising, studies show that it isn't necessarily because Americans don't want to get married. A 2013 Gallup poll found that "the majority of Americans are married (54 percent) or have never married but would like to someday (21 percent)."

As a result, both major parties have every reason to believe that Americans value the people they love and will turn out to the polls in 2016 to cast their votes for family. Americans, it seems, are ready for solutions. To prove their relevance, both parties have decided the best solutions to offer are the ones that strike closest to home.
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